LAS VEGAS (AP) — Cristiano Ronaldo’s lawyer urged a U.S. appeals court Wednesday to reject an appeal and uphold stiff sanctions against a lawyer for a woman trying to force the international soccer star to pay millions more than the $375,000 in hush money he paid her after she accused him of raping her in Las Vegas in 2009.
The woman’s lawyer is asking the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the dismissal of the case in June 2022 and reopen the civil lawsuit she first filed in 2018.
The appeal argues a federal court judge in Nevada should not have rejected the woman’s attempts to unseal and make public the confidentiality agreement she signed in 2010 in accepting payments from Ronaldo.
A three-judge panel of the San Francisco-based appellate court did not issue an immediate ruling after 45 minutes of oral arguments from lawyers for Ronaldo and his accuser, Kathryn Mayorga.
The Associated Press generally does not name people who say they are victims of sexual assault, but Mayorga gave consent through her lawyers, including Leslie Mark Stovall, to make her name public.
Judge Johnnie Rawlinson said the court would consider the appeal as submitted. A ruling could be weeks or possibly months away.
Ronaldo is one of the most recognizable and richest athletes in the world. He leads his home country Portugal’s national team and has played for the Spanish team Real Madrid, the Italian club Juventus, Manchester United in England. He now plays for the Saudi Arabian professional team Al Nassr.
Rawlinson, 9th Circuit Judge John Owens and 5th Circuit Judge Sidney Fitzwater visiting from Texas each asked questions of the lawyers — many targeting leaked documents tied to the confidentiality agreement — during the special sitting of the appellate court held Wednesday at the law school on the campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
None of the judges appeared sympathetic to arguments by Stovall that if anyone violated the confidentiality agreement it was Ronaldo or his associates. Mayorga’s attorney argued he referenced the sealed documents during the case in responses to references made by Ronaldo’s legal team.
Stovall argued that Mayorga wasn’t bound by the confidentiality agreement because Ronaldo or his associates violated it before the German news outlet, Der Spiegel, published an article in April 2017 titled “Cristiano Ronaldo’s Secret” based on documents obtained from what court filings called “whistleblower portal Football Leaks.”
“We don’t know that the documents Football Leaks delivered to me were the same documents hacked,” Stovall told the appellate judges. “We don’t know if they were accurate copies of lawyers’ conversations. There is no evidence in the record that establishes those facts.”
U.S. District Judge Jennifer Dorsey, in dismissing the case and sanctioning Stovall for “bad faith,” concluded he had improperly attempted to use documents that were leaked or stolen in a cyberattack to pursue Mayorga’s case.
Las Vegas police reopened a rape investigation after Mayorga’s lawsuit was filed in 2018, but Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson decided in 2019 not to pursue criminal charges. He said too much time had passed and evidence failed to show that Mayorga’s accusation could be proved to a jury.
Mayorga, a former teacher and model from the Las Vegas area, was 25 when she met Ronaldo at a nightclub in 2009 and went with him and other people to his hotel suite. She alleges in her lawsuit filed almost a decade later that the soccer star, then 24, sexually assaulted her in a bedroom.
Her lawsuit claimed conspiracy, defamation, breach of contract, coercion and fraud. By the time Dorsey threw out the case, Stovall claimed Mayorga should receive for more than $25 million in damages.
Ronaldo, through his lawyers, maintained the sex was consensual and that the confidentiality agreement reached in 2010 was valid. Stovall acknowledged that Mayorga received the $375,000.
Dorsey, in dismissing the case last year with prejudice, prevented Mayorga from refiling the case and took the unusual step of levying a $335,000 fine against Stovall.
“The fact that he wasn’t the original thief adds no element of innocence to his calculated expropriation of documents from a third party without concern for their obviously privileged and confidential nature of the suspicious circumstances surrounding them,” Dorsey wrote.
Stovall’s appeal on Mayorga’s behalf, filed in March, labeled Dorsey’s ruling “a manifest abuse of discretion.” It seeks to open the records and revive the case.
Ronaldo’s lawyers argued — and Dorsey agreed — that the “Football Leaks” documents and the confidentiality agreement were the product of privileged attorney-client discussions, that there was no guarantee they are authentic and that they couldn’t be considered as evidence.
“What is before your honors is a case that was built and litigated upon hacked and pillaged attorney-client communications and work products, said Ronaldo’s lawyer, Kendelee Works. “Ms. Mayorga’s attempt through counsel to shift blame to Mr. Ronaldo and his counsel simply fail both legally and factually.”
Sonner reported from Reno, Nevada.